A British academic travels to 1960s Prague to research the art collection of Rudolf II. An historian friend introduces him to the eccentric and utterly dogged porcelain collector, Kaspar Joachim Utz. From this encounter an extraordinary story of obsession and survival emerges: for Utz has protected his vast collection of Meissen figurines from Nazis, Stalinist ideologues and the demands of Communist museum curators.
After the Soviet invasion of 1968, all contact between the men ceases and Utz dies. In the last part of the play, our narrator returns to Prague in the late 1980s- as the Communist system is in its death-throes- to learn what became of Utz's collection. Was it appropriated by the State, or sold off to some secret enthusiast?
Is it conceivable that the porcelain figurines were destroyed to prevent such eventualities? The Englishman interviews several figures from Utz's life as he tries to piece together the puzzle of the man and his vanished achievement. Where is the collection now? And who, really, was Utz's maid, Marta, to the deceased? For it may be (as the narrator speculates among blacklisted writers turned garbage men) that human love came to eclipse his priceless objects d'art in the heart of Kaspar Utz.
This is the twist in the final minutes of the play. Although the marriage to his servant was undertaken in 1952 for purely selfish reasons (Utz had to be married in order to keep his home), over the decades that followed Marta fought off her more attractive rivals- for Utz, we also learn, was devastatingly attractive to a particular kind of woman- and finally cemented her status as the central figure in his life. This dramatisation by Gregory Norminton of Chatwin's last novel is an intriguing and comic mystery story.
Utz/Janitor ..... Jack Klaff
Marta ..... Pam Ferris
Dr Orlik/Curator ..... Sam Kelly
Narrator ..... Daniel Weyman
Oxford Don/Man/ Head Waiter ..... Gregory Norminton
Elena/Teresa Kryl ..... Michaela Stonisova
Ana/Photographer ..... Dolya Gavanski
Producer: Marilyn Imrie
A Corporation for Independent Media production for BBC Radio 4.
The Saturday Play: Utz
BBC Radio 4 FM, 4 July 2009 14.30
. . .the real story behind Utz is still more extraordinary. It was inspired by Chatwin's meeting in the Sixties with a Czech collector called Rudolph Just, who, at the time, was working for Sotheby's. In fact, Just's collection survived the Second World War, decades of Nazi and Communist oppression and a devastating robbery. Detective work and luck enabled two Sotheby's experts to find it hidden in a flat in a dingy tower block in the Czech city of Bratislava.
On December 11, the collection will be auctioned at Sotheby's Olympia saleroom in west London, where it is expected to fetch about £1 million, with a pair of Meissen vases dating from 1740 estimated at £40,000-£60,000.
By Bruce Chatwin , dramatised by Gregory Norminton.
A British academic travels to 1960s Prague to research the art collection of Rudolf II, and meets eccentric porcelain collector Kaspar Joachim Utz, who has protected his collection from successive threats of Nazis, Stalinists and Communists. The narrator returns to Prague in the 1980s to learn what became of Utz's collection. Marking the 20th anniversary of Chatwin's death.
Producer Judith Kampfner ; Director Marilyn Imrie
Utz: Jack Klaff
Janitor: Jack Klaff
Marta: Pam Ferris
Dr Orlik: Sam Kelly
Curator: Sam Kelly
Oxford don: Gregory Norminton
Man: Gregory Norminton
Head waiter: Gregory Norminton
Narrator: Daniel Weyman
Elena: Michaela Stonisova
Teresa: Michaela Stonisova
Ana: Dolya Gavanski
Photographer: Dolya Gavanski